After last season’s epic Champions League loss to Liverpool, Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu made it clear that he was going to stick with Ernesto Valverde ahead of next season, to the ire of many fans of the club.
Barcelona haven’t sacked a coach since dismissing Louis van Gaal 16 years ago, a run that has seen six subsequent coaches sit in the Camp Nou dugout. It has become a sort of philosophy at the club. However, the renewal of Valverde has caused an uproar, the kind that has never been seen in the fanbase of Barcelona.
— Barca Galaxy (@barcagalaxy) September 22, 2019
As at the time of this post, Valverde has taken charge of 126 official Barcelona matches as manager, winning 84, drawing 28, and losing just 14 games. This puts his win ratio with the club at 66.67%, the second-highest in his managerial career (after Olympiacos in the 2012/2013 football season where he recorded a 75% win ratio). In his first season at the club in La Liga, he lost only once. This is a pretty impressive record to have in one of the most stressful jobs on the planet.
In this period also, Barcelona have scored 293 goals and conceded 108, putting his goal difference at +185. However, for most of Barcelona’ s fanbase, the general performance of the team is as important as the titles and the wins.
Valverde’s appointment as coach has received mixed comments and opinions ever since he arrived from Athletic Bilbao. He’s been at the club for just over two seasons now and it is fairly safe to say that it has been a journey with lots of ups and downs. Valverde is a pragmatic, silent coach who JUST gets the job done. He gets a club over the line in the domestic league or the cup but he would not necessarily do it in a way that’ s pleasing on the eyes.
If you don’t respect the philosophy and don’t play in the way you are supposed to, your job is never safe. Or that’s what it used to be like.
The board and the players seem to trust in the man to the ire of fans all over, with some fans even expressing their desire to see Bartomeu leave the club for keeping Valverde. However, has Valverde done anything to deserve the stick he’s getting from Barcelona fans?
Joke FC 🤡
— 💙That 😍Bald ❤BARCAfan 💖💕🇯🇲 (@Alecia69825937) September 26, 2019
1. Too calm for fans’ liking
Being a calm character, Valverde brings that restraint and peace into the team that can be chaotic due to a lot of factors including media and fans’ expectations. However, that lack of passion can be visible on the pitch sometimes.
If your team’s coach can’t stir up that fire and belief in you, then the whole team might have a problem motivating themselves. It might sound like a small thing but those can also go a long way in the most crucial of moments.
2. Straying from philosophy
Valverde joining the club signalled a change in club policy towards strategy in a game. It showed that the club was willing to take a more pragmatic approach to football and transition from its unique tiki-taka to a modern, direct form of football.
In his first season, Valverde implemented a direct tactic, making the side tight at the back and creating a solid defensive unit with Samuel Umtiti and Gerard Pique who conceded the second-lowest number of goals. The club also scored many goals, but very few of them were in characteristic Barcelona fashion.
Despite his initial formation change to 4-4-2, Valverde has gone back to the traditional 4-3-3 of the club. However, his players are set up almost in a similar way, with one midfielder on each flank sandwiching the holding midfielder (usually Sergio Busquets) being the link between the wingers and the full-backs. This set-up also meant Barcelona became ultra-defensive and almost similar to teams who park the bus. This is a deviation from the usually fluid 4-3-3 that Barcelona play, where the midfielders are not links but a part of the attack as the whole team builds up as a unit towards the opponent’s goal.
It was this style of play that saw Barcelona knocked out from the Champions League against Roma in his first season, and against Liverpool last season. In both games, Valverde chose to play this way instead of going all out to win, after securing large wins in the first legs of both ties.
— B/R Football (@brfootball) May 7, 2019
This change has brought Valverde some success however, as can be seen from his stats so far. But walking away from the philosophy, even going as far as sacrificing it is a big blasphemy to most Barcelona fans, and Valverde committed it from the get-go.
3. Reworking the philosophy
When Valverde chose to revert to the classic Barcelona 4-3-3, he revived the tiki-taka. However, his is not the classical style of play which fans know and love. In Valverde’s version, the ball is moved about with much more urgency and thus pointless passing is avoided.
This reinvented tiki-taka of Valverde’s however, creates some leaks at the back due to the many forward runs made by the full-backs. But it is a much more exciting form of football than both the original tiki-taka and the direct style of play implemented by Valverde in his first season at the Camp Nou.
This was evident in the recent 5-2 victory over Valencia in La Liga where the side let in two easy goals but scored five at the other end. The players showed brilliant passing ability, vision, pace, technique, dribbling, and finishing, the complete package.
However, it is this flaw in defence that has made Barcelona fans criticise Valverde’s style constantly. When it works and the players are up for it, it is almost unplayable, but when it doesn’ t work, the faults become glaring and he as the coach gets all the smoke.
4. Valverde’s untouchables
Here, many people are right in criticising Valverde. He has stubbornly stuck to a certain group of players that will always start and/or the finish the game regardless of form, physical or psychological state.
In his two seasons so far those players are, for the most part, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique, Lionel Messi, Ivan Rakitic, and Luis Suarez. Messi is the only one who can actually be justified in this instance since there is no real substitute for him but Valverde is yet to make a real case for the others.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen has been one of the best goalkeepers in the world in recent seasons so starting him every game in every competition isn’ t unreasonable. However, it is this issue that caused one of the best back-up goalkeepers Barcelona has ever had, Jasper Cillessen, to leave for Valencia in the summer transfer window. This season, Neto Murara has been brought in to fill Cillessen’s slot and doesn’t look like he’s going to fare any better than the Dutchman did.
In defence, Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique are the untouchables. Prior to this season, they didn’t have proper substitutes, but this season, Junior Firpo has been brought in to cover for Alba, and Jean-Clair Todibo has been with the club for a year, training to back Pique up. Firpo is now getting a run in the team though, due to Alba picking up an injury at Dortmund on the opening night of the 2019/20 Champions League season. Meanwhile, Pique is still playing and there is no chance in sight for Todibo to get any minutes under his belt.
Ivan Rakitic was the player with the most appearances in football in the 2017/18 season which was Valverde’s first as Barcelona manager. He also was the player with the most appearances for Barcelona that season. Valverde has repaid this trust by making sure that he plays almost every game since then. Even in games where he was below average, Valverde never substituted him to the chagrin of fans. Valverde also barely afforded Rakitic any rest for him to get his groove back. This season, however, the club has brought in Frenkie De Jong who has gotten the nod ahead of the Croatian.
Luis Suarez might be the worst one yet. The Uruguayan striker, who is third in the list of all-time goals for Barcelona has developed some knee problems which, at a point, were yet to be diagnosed as either a real injury or just fatigue due to too many minutes spent on the pitch. Still, Valverde played him and even when the striker couldn’t run, never substituted him.
Valverde’s stubbornness has been a big turn-off for many fans who will not stop calling for his sack, and also for his untouchables to be sold by the club.
Luis Suárez man, should have just returned to the Eredivisie already this summer. Would have welcomed you with open arms here at Ajax.
— AFC Ajax 💎 (@TheEuropeanLad) September 24, 2019
We can’t stop Messi from being Messi. He just does what he does. However, under Valverde, the Argentine talisman has had to do it a little too often.
When Messi fails to singlehandedly win games, Barcelona struggles immensely, making it look like Valverde has no tactics in mind but to “get the ball to Messi”.
This season, the club has acquired Antoine Griezmann and has made teenage wonder-kid Ansumane Fati who have shown signs of being able to step up and take the bull by the horns. However, it is still early days and we can’ t tell if it will all boil down to Messi again.
This always is the fault of the coach, when the team doesn’t play well enough, regardless of the work he has put into developing the team.
Another thing that doesn’ t help Valverde’s case is his win percentages compared to Barcelona’s last three coaches, Luis Enrique (76.2%), Tata Martino (67.80%), and the late Tito Villanova (75.5.6%). However, he is a different manager to these three and to the rest of Barcelona’ s coaches in recent history and has shown that hi style CAN work. He has matched a lot of records playing his way and has wrung out results from ties that were 50/50 which also delighted fans.
Under him, there has also been an improvement in the way Barcelona’s midfield contributes to the defence as he has employed mainly box-to-box midfielders during his stint so far. This means more of Barcelona’ s midfielders now rank for tackles, interceptions and other defensive based stats as well, unlike under previous managers.
The club know why they’ re keeping him. But unfortunately, the fans are not as patient. However, this could be the last season at the club for the man known as The Ant due to his pragmatism. The fans will do well to get behind him and the players this season, instead of the incessant calls on social media for his head.